Govt. plans NIS 116b. in infrastructure programs

The official plan aims to attract multinational corporations interested in establishing public-private partnerships for 'shovel-ready' projects.

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September 4, 2017 04:49
3 minute read.
Govt. plans NIS 116b. in infrastructure programs

Members of the media tour one of the tunnels that will be part of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed railway.. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

The government published plans on Sunday for a general infrastructure project worth NIS 116 billion that is aimed at attracting public-corporate partnerships, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The official list of highways, railways and desalinization plants will give multinationals the opportunity to bid, submit tenders and set up public-private partnerships, a PMO official who requested anonymity said. The 147 projects are set to be built between 2017 and 2021.

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The idea of “shovel-ready” projects emerged from a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and executives from Blackrock, the world’s largest investment management firm, according to the official. The company oversees some $5.7 trillion in assets and expressed interest in investing in Israeli infrastructure, although when it initially requested a project list, none was to be found.

“We spoke with several investors,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, according to an official PMO statement.

He described them as “large investors who invest in the infrastructure world” and said they told him and other officials at the PMO that “partly because of this [lack of compiled projects], we ourselves are preventing the investment of very large sums of money in infrastructure that is important to the State of Israel.”

The publication of a list of desired projects has led to mixed results in the past.

Although infrastructure projects typically yield low annual returns in the single digits, the Israeli infrastructure fund for Blackrock could be more lucrative than simply parking cash in the bank. Digging tunnels and paving roads is appetizing in an era of super-low interest rates and when government bonds offer pitiful yields.

One criterion for the infrastructure projects is that those worth more than NIS 100 million are authorized through the state budget or via cabinet decision and undergo a cost-benefit analysis, the official said, adding that at this point, Blackrock had merely inquired about a process to invest in infrastructure without making a definitive commitment.

Other financial firms have expressed interest in Israeli construction plans.

Blackrock officials were unavailable to comment as of press time. The company was previously part of Blackstone Group, which is launching a megafund to invest in US infrastructure.

Blackstone received a major commitment from the Saudi wealth fund to invest in similar public-private partnerships after a visit to the kingdom in May by US President Donald Trump.

In Israel, infrastructure projects already exist where foreign companies are involved, such as in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed railway, but a public- private partnership differs from a corporate contract in that ownership of the facility or road might rest in private hands.

Some of the infrastructure plans in the pipeline include light rail lines in the Tel Aviv region, a proposed Jerusalem Light Rail line that connects the two campuses of the Hebrew University, sewage treatment plants and private power plants.

The PMO officials who oversee the public works project list are director-general Eli Groner and Amir Barkan, deputy director-general for economics and infrastructure.

But public-private partnerships on utilities and transportation do raise questions. Will private companies collect the fees generated by highways, airports and utilities, or do the funds accrue back to the government? Past public-private partnerships have turned sour when political meddling intervened and the financial incentives were inadequate to appease all the parties.

It is unclear why the government is relying private capital for large-scale infrastructure projects rather than borrowing or the issuing of bonds. It lacks experience in implementing public-private partnerships, according to the Globes business publication, with mixed results from previous projects.

Among those projects in the pipeline are some highways for West Bank settlements.

Multinational corporations have often shied away from infrastructure projects over the Green Line due to the disputed status of the territory.

A centralized infrastructure list is meant to streamline the regulatory process by allowing companies to apply for a single government tender rather than separate tenders with multiple ministries. By making the list public, citizens can access all information about the status of a given project.

Most ministries are participating in the list except for the Defense Ministry, which cites security reasons, and the Education Ministry.

“All companies are more than welcome to look at this list of infrastructure projects and invest in Israel,” the PMO source said, beckoning foreign companies to jump on board.


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